Apr. 10 – Mostly Eagles

It was a windy blue-sky day today.


All of my birding was in Anchorage, beginning just after noon at the Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area at close to low tide. Although there were Black-capped Chickadees, a Common Raven and a Red-breasted Nuthatch, the most noteworthy birds were Bald Eagles. About 10 minutes after I arrived, I was thinking about cranes and looked up to see if maybe some were flying over. What was up above was a small kettle of Bald Eagles (about 7, including two in adult plumage) gradually going upward, with the whole kettle drifting slowly northward. Down at my level were two immature Bald Eagles and an adult. The kettle was too high to find in my camera by the time I got the camera ready. I was only able to get a picture of the adult Bald Eagle that periodically coasted by just above the treetops.




After I walked all the trails at the Natural Area, I went to Spenard Crossing where there were seven Canada Geese of various sizes (mostly preening so I could not get much of a view of them) along with the duck species that have been there recently.


My last stop was at the mouth of Ship Creek. There were few birds there – just gulls (Herring-type but I did not really look at them) and Mallards. It was interesting to see that a huge ship was being unloaded of its colorful cargo, one of the few non-nature things that I have photographed lately.


At home there were a few birds on the feeders – one Common Redpoll and one Hairy Woodpecker. It appears that with the snow being gone the birds are able to find enough to eat without spending much time at my feeders.



129 species so far

Apr. 9 – Back to Bald Eagles and Swans

After a day at the hawk watch, today I was back to one of my regular local routes to see if anything new was to be found. I started at Potter Marsh just as the sun was hitting the southern mountaintops (before the sun disappeared for much of the day behind the clouds). The surrounding mountains were beautifully reflected in most of the puddles and lakes.



From the boardwalk I could see two of the four moose that l later saw from the road.


Near the boardwalk were three Green-winged Teal that did not stay around to be photographed. Far out in the marsh a Bald Eagle was hopping on the ground just beyond the shallow ponds where there were four Trumpeter Swans, a couple of Gadwalls, four Northern Pintails, many Mallards and distant miscellaneous gulls (likely Mew and Glaucous-winged).

At Girdwood, more Canada Geese had arrived and the Green-winged Teal stayed for photos. The geese were far out across the wetland so I could not tell if the couple that were substantially smaller had a chance at being Cackling Geese. There were at least four Bald Eagles, two immatures of which were hanging out together on a dead tree in the marsh.



Just past the road to Portage Glacier where the swan concentration has recently been the highest around there were two groups of Trumpeter Swans, with 11 in one spread-out group and 9 in another tightly clumped group.


The two Northwestern Crows were hanging out around the Girdwood gas station, picking up grass, presumably for a nest going in somewhere nearby. Northwestern Crows are quite rare this far north, and most Anchorage-area birders rely on finding the Girdwood birds each year so the crows can be added to their annual lists.


On the drive back to Anchorage, I checked out Potter Marsh briefly on the way past and saw a single Red-necked Grebe hanging out with two of the swans.




My final birding was in the Spenard Crossing area. Signs of winter are mostly gone, with the creek no longer framed by shelves of snowy ice. Only small frozen icy areas remain under some of the trees. Many of the bushes are beginning to show bright green buds on the tips of the branches. It is possible that spring is on the way!


129 species so far

Apr. 8 – Three (New) Raptor Day

Today Kenna Sue Trickey and I (and my dog Shar) drove north of Anchorage about 120 miles to this year’s hawk watch site (a couple of miles from the traditional site). The mountains along the route were stunning with a relatively new coat of snow but the roads were free of ice and snow.




This hawk watch site is being staffed each day for a couple of months by two women working for Hawk Watch International (Caitlin Davis and Rya Rubenthaler). Kenna Sue and I joined them at the site today from 10:30-4:00. For much of the day we were also joined by Courtney Brown and a couple of men whose complete names I did not get. It was a beautiful day. The weather was a few degrees above freezing, there was sun for part of the day and the wind was mostly not very strong. As the day went along some of the watchers even shed their heavy parkas.

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Today we saw my three goal birds for the day: three new raptors for my year, RED-TAILED HAWK (mostly HARLAN’S) (about 14), GOLDEN EAGLE (3), AND ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (4, half dark and half light). Most of these birds were first seen very far away generally to the east. Some of them drifted off and were not seen to come overhead at all while others steamed on by usually quite far up above us. Because of the bright sky it was often very difficult if not impossible for me to find the distant birds in my camera, but every now and then it worked. Even then, the birds usually appeared as little dots (see first picture below in which there is a bird). In addition to these three new raptors there were a couple of Northern Goshawks and a Bald Eagle, as well as Common Ravens and a Boreal Chickadee (and apparently fly-by Lapland Longspurs which I did not see but just heard and decided to wait to count until later this year).





It was a great day. I’m sure it will be a while until I again add that many birds in a single day.

129 species for the year

Apr. 7 – Black Gold

I did a lot of driving and birding today – up to Palmer (about 45 miles north), back through Anchorage to Potter Marsh, Girdwood and Portage (about 45 miles south). On both ends and in between were Trumpeter Swans, Bald Eagles and Black-capped Chickadees.






It was another lovely day. Down near Girdwood there was a soaring pair high up a snowy mountain of what I thought were Golden Eagles – large, broad wings, all dark. I took multiple pictures as they soared and when I looked at the pictures in my camera they still looked like Golden Eagles. When I got home however and downloaded the pictures, my conclusion changed – I now think they are Common Ravens, which of course do soar as well. The tail of one of the birds looks very wedge-shaped and the bill is sort of raven-like.



I’ve decided not to worry about what they are. If the weather allows, tomorrow two of us are going up to the hawk watch about 12o miles north of Anchorage where they have been seeing Golden Eagles every day, and presumably they will be there tomorrow. Golden Eagles are not rare in Alaska in the summer. In addition, maybe some of the buteos will be there.

126 species so far

Apr. 6 – A Different Chicken-like Bird

Once again, the goal was White-tailed Ptarmigan. Having heard quite a few reports that one could hike a trail that begins at Basher Trailhead in the Chugach Mountains in east Anchorage and goes to Near Point (not so near as I learned this morning) and sometimes see ptarmigans, I decided to give the trail a try. As it turns out I should have done it when there was snow and ice on the roads and ground, because it appears that all of the ptarmigans have moved higher into the mountains now. But I had been nervous about driving the mountain road to get there. Hopefully, I’ll figure out another place to get them this year. It is good that I went on the hike anyway, because now I have a much better idea of what the trail and the terrain are like.


I began my hike about 8 am. I could see right away that I did not need to keep the trekkers on my boots as the trail was mostly sloppy with mud until I got way up on the trail. Early on there were spectacular views down into the Anchorage area. The trail goes up and down and then along the top of a cliff and then eventually down to a couple of creek-crossings and the does a long steep ascent to where the still somewhat snow-covered peaks are visible. Right away, I had a singing Northern Shrike along the trail.


At the beginning of the hike the sun was just coming up ahead of me, making it difficult to look up along the trail, so I was mostly listening for birds and watching the muddy trail to find the best place to walk. As I walked I noticed quite a few cloven moose hoof-prints in the mud and thought about the commonness of these animals in Anchorage.


All of a sudden I realized that the bright sun ahead of me was silhouetting a moose, and that I had almost walked right into the moose. It was an adult female and she and I were about 10 feet apart before I realized it. I very hastily backed down the trail and she stood her ground, snorting and blowing puffy white breaths into the cold air. There was nowhere I could go to escape her so I just stood there watching and talking to her, and finally taking a few pictures. I figured later that if she had trampled me, someone could have looked at the pictures in my camera to figure out who had done it. Finally, she turned and began walking slowly away from me up the trail, where I was going. I just waited and eventually she wandered off the trail and I sneaked by and kept going past her.



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Other than Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, a Black-billed Magpie and flyover Mallards and Common Ravens, there were no other birds on the way up. Just short of Near Point itself, and a bit less than 3 miles from my starting point, having talked to another hiker who assured me that she had not seen any ptarmigan beyond where I was, I decided to turn around and head down. Going down, though a bit tricky on some of the slippery muddy slopes, was much easier and quicker. The chickadees were still around.


The only new day-bird on the trip down shot out of one of the spruce trees and crash-landed nearby. It was a female Spruce Grouse, who clucked nervously at me as she gradually eased away into the underbrush. Pretty similar to a ptarmigan and very pretty, but….


126 species so far


Apr. 5 – Just Another Alaska Birding Day

I had the urge to check out the wetland areas south of Anchorage for a couple of species that are beginning to appear in the state but which I had not yet seen this year, and as it turns out have still not seen not that the birding day is over. This morning as I gradually realized that there apparently was nothing new around these areas, I settled back to just enjoying the drive and the birds that were there.

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I began, as usual on my southward drives, at Potter Marsh. The pair of Common Mergansers was still there, so maybe they are thinking of staying around. On the highway along the marsh there was a smattering of duck species – the usual Mallards, plus Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal, and Gadwalls, and five Trumpeter Swans. There were also five moose out grazing in the marsh, causing a group of cars to gather to watch them.


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At Girdwood, there were two pairs of Canada Geese. While I watched, one of the geese stormed over to the other pair and there was a flurry of honks and wing-flapping before they settled back into peacefully browsing.



Today there were 15 Trumpeter Swans along the highway just past the road to Portage in little groups of 2-4 birds spread out across the shallow water.


My next-to-final birding before turning around to head back to Anchorage was to walk a small portion of the Trail of Blue Ice that extends along much of the road into Portage. The portion of trail that I walked was completely clear of ice and snow, the green moss beneath the trees was lush, and little green plants were coming up in the boggy areas. I then did a quick check of the little lake at the national forest roadside area. This area usually has a pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes when the water is open and they were there today too.

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Tomorrow it’s again time to go someplace that’s not on my regular birding route.

126 species so far

Apr. 4 – A Different Shade of White

The goal for today was White-tailed Ptarmigan. To that end, four other people (Louann Feldmann, Mike Herndon, Dave Sonneborn and Keys) and I drove up Arctic Valley Road in north Anchorage to the end of the road. We put on our hiking gear, including snow/ice traction devices for our feet and walking poles, and climbed up to the top of an area where all three ptarmigan species have been seen.

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Today our ptarmigan sightings were limited to Willow Ptarmigan, which although beautiful, were not the goal. We possibly heard a White-tailed Ptarmigan but not surely. We had to inspect the tails of each of the nearly completely white birds that we did see, but in each case, there was a tiny sliver of black and not a completely white tail. So I need to keep trying for them. I’m sincerely hoping that White-tailed Ptarmigan does not become a nemesis bird (see my most recent ABA blog post (blog.aba.org), scheduled to run tomorrow, about owls that have been and are nemesis birds for me).




The only other bird on the mountain hike was a single Northern Shrike. We were clambering over and across snow and low bushes and tundra vegetation for about 4 hours. Our exertions kept us warm as there was little wind and the temperature was mostly just a little below freezing.


Shortly after I got home, there was a text from David Sonneborn who had just found a Tundra Swan at Spenard Crossing. In central Alaska, Trumpeter Swans are the usual swan and I has seen many of them this year but no Tundra Swans. So, I raced over there and immediately saw the swan out in the middle of the water. Unfortunately, it was sleeping with most of its beak tucked out of sight. The little bit that I could see did not seem to have any yellow on it and I was worried that it was just a Trumpeter Swan, and therefore not a new bird. Finally the swan pulled its head out a little bit more. When I zoomed in on it and took a picture, I realized that there was a little bit of yellow on the beak and (with Dave Sonnerborn’s help) that the shape of the black around the eye was better for a TUNDRA SWAN than for a Trumpeter Swan. A very, very nice consolation prize for the day.





126 species so far

Apr. 3 – Swans and Scenes

Another beautiful Alaska day today, so after my morning activities, I drove south down the highway out of Anchorage past Girdwood to about 4 miles past the intersection with the road to Portage Glacier.



This area is a vast wetland where Trumpeter Swans have been regular for many days. Today the number was down to five Trumpeter Swans while I was there. I took a few pictures and drove back north, taking more pictures of the scenery along the way.



When I reached Potter Marsh on the south side of Anchorage, I stopped to photograph the Trumpeter Swans. This afternoon there were six where there had been three for days (there were seven there when I drove past the Marsh earlier today).



I finished my birding for the day by walking the Potter Marsh boardwalk. There were many families also walking the boardwalk and it was late afternoon so I did not expect to see much. There were the usual Black-billed Magpies and a pair of Common Mergansers that did not seem to mind all the human activity.




Tomorrow, if the weather holds, I have a fairly realistic chance at a new year bird. Stay tuned.

125 species so far

Apr. 2 – Palmer Area Birding

I decided to bird the Palmer area today, looking for such things as Sandhill Cranes, Wilson’s Snipe and Ospreys, none of which I found. It was a very nice day of birding, however, with a touch of spring in the air with some of the deciduous branches bearing drooping catkins.

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My first stop was the old Matanuska townsite road, where I saw my first (and so far, for the year, only) Northern Harrier for the year. Today there were two adult Bald Eagles, a scolding Black-billed Magpie and a talking Northern Shrike, silhouetted high in the area where probably this same Northern Shrike was chasing other birds the last time I visited this site.


I then walked the Reflections Lake trail, where there were four Bald Eagles, a couple of Black-capped Chickadees, a flyover Common Redpoll and a pair of Common Mergansers.




My final birding for the morning was along the Old Glenn Highway. At the Eklutna tailrace roadside area was a pair of Bald Eagles, one on the nest, a couple of Black-billed Magpies and a Black-capped Chickadee.




125 species so far

Apr. 1 – Done Lynn

Actually, it’s “dunlin”. DUNLIN was my new bird for the day. But until I finally saw a new year bird late this morning, the thought had crossed my mind that maybe I was done for the year, that I wasn’t ever going to get a new bird. My originally stated goal for this year, which I originally thought was feasible enough, is 250 species, but for the last month it has seemed that I was not ever going to get to half my goal. Today I did. So, no, I am not done yet. After all, it’s April now and things will surely escalate soon.

Before getting a new bird today, however, I did a lot of other birding. I began the day where I ended yesterday’s birding, in Kenai on South Spruce Street at the spot where a Great Gray Owl’s hooting had been reported. I did not see or hear an owl either time, so this morning after it just started getting light, I went to Buoy Road where Great Gray Owls have been seen multiple times, and where I have looked multiple times without seeing one. It was a beautiful moonlit morning but again no owl.


I then went to Cannery Road, the site where I had seen a Short-eared Owl on my last visit to Kenai. The sun was beautiful peeking through the clouds. There were numerous gulls (deemed by others to mostly be hybrid Herring-Glaucous-winged), a couple of Bald Eagles, Mallards and Northern Pintails, Common Ravens and a singing Northern Shrike. There were nearly 100 Common Goldeneyes on the river.


Realizing that it was soon going to be high tide in Homer, I decided to drive down there to see if the rising water had pushed in any shorebirds or if anything else was to be found. Although it was long past sunrise, it was very cloudy and rainy in Homer, with a brief break in the clouds over Homer Spit when I arrived.


For a while it looked like nothing much had changed. Bald Eagles as usual were sitting on most available spots.


I was sitting in my car off to the side of Freight Dock Road in the pouring rain when a flock of shorebirds burst over the road in front of me, followed shortly by another flock. I immediately thought “dunlins?” but they all were gone. I wandered around some more and then went back to Mud Bay, and there was a very distant flock of shorebirds bunched closely together, scurrying around at the edge of the mud. The rain had mostly let up and I scanned the group for a long time. My conclusion: most of the 100 or so shorebirds appeared to be Rock Sandpipers, but there were definitely some (maybe 5-8) slightly longer-billed shorebirds among them, Dunlins. Although I tried for photos, all my photos show are blurry grayish blobs. The whole group disappeared during another rain shower and I could not refind them.

Before I left Homer,  went to the Beluga Overlook to see if I could find any snipe, and instead found two moose, which were very close to me as I came down on to the observation deck, scarily so. The first one I saw started walking toward me and then I noticed the second moose, apparently the mother. Both of them started grazing in the water and I backed away hoping not to get them interested in me. I never had a chance to check for snipe.



I began my drive back to Anchorage (about 230 miles) about 1:00 pm. I tried not to stop too often since it was raining, but could not resist stopping for some of the many Bald Eagles and for some of the Trumpeter Swans that I saw, about 17 in all spread out over 6 places along my drive.




125 species so far